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Hungary widens probe in case of alleged Nazi

Prosecutors investigating a Hungarian man wanted by Nazi hunters as a war criminal are considering expanding their investigation to Serbia.

world Updated: Oct 09, 2008 13:06 IST

Prosecutors investigating a Hungarian man wanted by Nazi hunters as a war criminal are considering expanding their investigation to Serbia.

Efraim Zuroff, head of the Israeli office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, claims that 94-year-old Sandor Kepiro took part in the killings some 1,200 Serb and Jewish civilians in Novi Sad, Serbia, in early 1942.

But the Budapest Chief Prosecutor's Office has not uncovered evidence to charge Kepiro since beginning a probe in March 2007. "Based on the investigations in Hungary ... it is not possible to establish a case, a concrete chain of actions based on which anyone could be suspected of committing a crime," said prosecutor's office spokeswoman Gabriella Skoda.

Prosecutors are currently waiting for access to archival documents in Serbia, which could shed new light on the 1942 events. Skoda said it was yet to be decided whether Hungary was going to ask Serbia to submit the documents or if Hungarian prosecutors would travel to Serbia to work in the archives.

In a separate development, Serbian prosecutors last month lodged a request for investigation against Kepiro with the Belgrade war crimes court, the first step toward a possible indictment and trial. Kepiro, a gendarmerie captain during World War II, acknowledges that he was in Novi Sad during the 1942 atrocities, but said his task was to supervise the identification of those being rounded up and denied knowing about the killings until later. Some 800 Jews and 400 Serbs were shot on the banks of the frozen Danube River, their bodies thrown into the water. "I wasn't even close to the Danube banks when the killings took place," Kepiro said in an interview near his Budapest home. "Never in my life did I take part in any actions against Jews." A Budapest court last year said that a 1944 verdict which condemned Kepiro to 10 years in prison for disloyalty to Hungary could no longer be enforced, because a retrial shortly afterward annulled the sentence and erased his criminal record. Zuroff, who had urged Hungarian authorities to enforce the 1944 conviction, claims Kepiro also was sentenced to prison in absentia in 1946, but no records of have been found of such a case. Even though authorities are working on Kepiro's case, officially the investigation is about an unknown perpetrator, since in Hungary proceedings against someone can be initiated only after reasonable suspicion has been established and the suspect questioned about the case.

Zsolt Zetenyi, Kepiro's lawyer, said that even though Kepiro has not been named a suspect, the legal process and Zuroff's accusations had taken a toll on his client.

Zetenyi said medical experts had established that Kepiro, who lived for decades in Argentina before returning to Hungary in 1996, has suffered "psychological damage _ symptoms of neurosis and sleeplessness, anxiety. It's evident that his health has genuinely suffered as a result of these false charges."

Zetenyi said he filed a petition last month at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, asking for the end of the investigation, claiming the length of the process was unfair to Kepiro.

Skoda, from the Prosecutor's Office, said the probe was reviewed and extensions considered every two months, with the next decision due at the end of October.